Reading guide for Yellow by Janni Visman

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Yellow

A Novel

By Janni Visman

Yellow
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2005,
    192 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2006,
    192 pages.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

No unnecessary anecdotes.

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Stella, the narrator and heroine of Janni Visman's new novel Yellow, is an obsessive-compulsive shut-in. She lives in a compartmentalized, controlled environment of her own design in which everything she needs—from work to lovers to makeup—comes to her. Within this framework of rules and repetition, Stella has achieved a kind of psychological security. But when Ivan, her lover, violates the agreement of their affair with a revelation about his past, Stella's hermetic existence breaks wide open.

Visman embraces the issues of identity, sexuality, power, and trust with unrelenting honesty and masterful control. A taut 192 pages, the book is an exploration of one woman's psychological unraveling—or, in what amounts to the same thing, one woman's progress from paranoia to freedom. The truth, as the author so cleverly demonstrates, is often more complicated than it first appears. In the same manner that Stella has reduced her life to what is elemental, so has Visman pared her prose to its essence, writing with a haunting simplicity that perfectly matches her subject. Despite its pithiness, this is a novel that lives in its details; every moment of Yellow is infused with a cinematic beauty and carefully moderated tension that build, in combination, to a thrilling resolution.

As Stella follows one trail of secrets and lies, she leaves behind another for the reader to follow in turn, labyrinth of family, neighbors, lovers, and strangers—characters whose roles and loyalties shift from day to day. Stella steers readers through her convoluted psychological landscape, presenting life as she lives it. As a guide, she is both stern and fragile, possibly unreliable and possibly at risk. Together, reader and narrator discover the scope of Stella's situation, inspiring each to retrace their steps through the novel, reexamining what and who they thought they knew.

Readers of Visman's previous book, Sex Education, expect style, intelligence, and candor, and Yellow does not disappoint. She boldly examines the most intimate and difficult aspects of life—the sexual politics and power plays that lie at the heart of relationships, the creation and maintenance of identity within a shifting landscape of lovers and acquaintances, the common yearning for stability, and the lengths to which a woman will go to stave off her darkest fears.

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss the significance of the yellow gas in terms of the context in which it appears throughout the novel (What events precede its appearance? How does Stella react?) and what it symbolizes.
     
  2. The narrator is the guide through the events of a novel, but when presented with a guide who is paranoid, deceptive, or otherwise ill, one's approach to the story is altered. What are some other famously unreliable narrators? What connections can you draw between their stories and Yellow?
     
  3. How does Stella's psychological condition affect your sympathy toward her? Do you separate yourself from her presentation of the story and examine it according to your own instincts? At what point and why?
     
  4. Was Stella truly paranoid or was she only intuiting trouble she couldn't yet prove? In her case, what was the line between obsession and caution? In what ways do you depend on your sixth sense or gut instinct?
     
  5. In Yellow, the characters are never completely honest with each other, or even with themselves. Do you expect a certain amount of deception in all your relationships? Is it possible to live a completely honest existence? Is there a difference between the lies you tell yourself (to feel happy, confident, or safe) and the lies you tell others (in order to spare their feelings)?
     
  6. Describe a private ritual you have that must be met in order for you to feel balanced in your daily life. What separates your behavior from Stella's?
     
  7. How does the idea of privacy manifest itself in Yellow in terms of property, sexuality, psychology, and trust?
     
  8. Stella knows people only in the context of her own apartment and, therefore, has a very compartmentalized view of them. To a lesser extent, this is true of everyone in that we know people only in how they fit within our own life. Can you picture the various fractions of your own personality that others see? How does your idea of self change when you consider yourself limited only within the scope of employee, parent, neighbor, etc.?
     
  9. The novel is comprised mostly of female characters, interacting on levels private and professional. Name the issues displayed in the relationships of the primary and secondary characters and how they echo one another. For example, does Mrs. Philips's betrayal prefigure the one committed by Skye?
     
  10. Did your feelings toward Stella and Ivan change by the end of the novel? If so, how?
     

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Plume. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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